Category Archives: 2010/03

Replacing Simon and Kirby, Chapter 1, The Newsboy Legion

While Simon and Kirby were working for DC they knew that at some time they both would be entering military service. To prepare for this the two went into hyper drive and started generating an inventory for DC to use while they were gone. This was very successful and Simon and Kirby covers and stories appeared long after Joe and Jack were working for Uncle Sam. But the inventory was not large enough to last until Simon and Kirby were back from helping to protect our country. By early 1944 (cover dates) there were no more Simon and Kirby story art left.

The question of Simon and Kirby’s replacement came back to my attention recently while reading DC’s Simon and Kirby Sandman archive. There were two stories in it that were listed as being done by Joe and Jack but to me looked like they were actually by some other artist (“Courage a la Carte”, Adventure #91, April 1944 and “Sweets for Swag”, Adventure #100, October 1945). The issue came up again when I recently obtained a copy of DC’s Simon and Kirby Newsboy Legion archive. For the Newsboy Legion volume, DC decided to include material that clearly was not drawn by Simon and Kirby. The replacement artist for most of the Newsboy Legion was credited in the DC volume as Gil Kane. It is an attribution that I have used previously as well. However when I talked with Joe Simon about this he insisted that Gil Kane was not the artist and suggested that it was the brothers Arturo and Luis Cazeneuve.

Simon and Kirby’s replacements was a subject that I have always meant to investigate a little further. This will be the start of another serial post. It will be a bit more erratic than most of my serial posts because I am not going to do this in a strictly chronological order. Instead I will begin with several chapters examining the Newsboy Legion, then look at Sandman and finally cover the Boy Commandos.

Star Spangled #29
Star Spangled #29 (February 1944) “Cabbages and Comics”, pencils by Jack Kirby

I will start with the Newsboy Legion because the work covered in this chapter can all be found in DC’s recent archive volume. Thus the reader will be able to view more examples than I can provide in this blog. The first story I will remark on is what I believe to be the last published complete Newsboy Legion story by Simon and Kirby before they went off into military service. Because of the push to create inventory and the use of other hands in the inking, the art by this time was not quite as good as early in the Newsboy Legion run. But even poorer quality Simon and Kirby art is still much better than what most other artists were doing. And while many artists might try to imitate Kirby’s dynamic art they were unable to keep it up page after page. In short I have no doubt that this story is in fact a Simon and Kirby production.

The Jack Kirby Collector (issue #21) published an interview with Gil Kane. Two of Kane’s answers are particularly pertinent to this discussion:

TJKC: What were your job duties with S&K?

Gil: Mine was penciling. I would try to turn out a job every week or so. [They were] 12-page stories. I was copying-tracing-Jack’s work.

TJKC: What happened when Simon & Kirby went into the service? What happened to you?

Gil: I got a “Newsboy Legion” job to do by myself (like I had done the rest of them except they didn’t fix it up or do the splash), but when I walked through the door with the finished job, they said, “You’re fired.” They didn’t even look at the work. I really was lousy and I was out! At that point, I was about seventeen and I worked for Continental Comics for a guy named Temmerson. (I penciled and Carmine Infantino inked.) But that only lasted until I went into the Army.

There are a couple of really significant points in Gil’s short answers. Kane describes having previously done work that Simon and Kirby fixed up or provided the splash. Now it is possible that Gil Kane had something to do with earlier stories such as “Cabbages and Comics” but if so it was only in a minor capacity. Kane may have done things like help with the inking but I am sure that Kirby was the penciler.

Star Spangled #30
Star Spangled #30 (March 1944) “The Lady of Linden Lane”, pencils by Jack Kirby

There is no sign of Gil Kane, or any other artist other than Simon and Kirby, in the splash for “The Lady of Linden Lane” (Star Spangled #30, March 1944). It is a great splash with plenty of action and a little bit of humor with the normally fearless Guardian trying to duck from the blows of an elderly lady. The hoods in the background are a typical Simon and Kirby feature. This was inventoried material and so perhaps was executed in a hurry, but it still is great comic book art. Joe entered the Coast Guards before Jack went into military service so some of the inventory art may have been done by Kirby without Simon. However there is no reason to believe that DC published the inventoried art in the same order that Joe and Jack produced it. Nor are there any signs that I can find that distinguish this story from others there were done by both Simon and Kirby.

Star Spangled #30
Star Spangled #30 (March 1944) “The Lady of Linden Lane” page 9, art by Gil Kane?

While the splash for “The Lady of Linden Lane” is work that can be attributed convincingly to Simon and Kirby, the rest of the story is not. The art is crude and stilted. There are parts that really do look like Kirby’s pencils but they appear to be swipes. For instance the cigar smoker in panel 5 of page 9 (shown above) is shown in the type of perspective that Kirby favored however it appears to be based on Guardian from the cover of Star Spangled #26 (November 1943).

Star Spangled #8 and #30
left Star Spangled #8 (May 1942) “Last Mile Alley” page 13 panel 2, pencils by Jack Kirby
right Star Spangled #30 (March 1944) “The Lady of Linden Lane” page 7 panel 5, art by Gil Kane?

An even more obvious swipe can be found in the figures of Snapper and Gabby shown above. Unlike my previous example this is a close swipe showing only minor alterations. Kirby did swipe on occasion but one thing I have never seen him do was swipe from himself. Jack did have some favorite poses that he often repeated but they are always done with such variation that it seems clear that he is not copying any previous drawing. Simon did swipe from Kirby, in fact rather often. But Joe was a good artist in his own right and his art is much better than this crudely drawn story. Further I can detect none of Simon’s drawing style in “The Lady of Linden Lane”. While I am not familiar enough with the work of Arturo or Luis Cazeneuve to confidently spot their work, what I have seen is much better than these crude drawings. The combination of a Kirby drawn splash with story done by another artist fits very well the interview reply that Kane gave. Add to that the use of swipes and Kane’s admitted poor artistry (he was 16 at the time). So assuming that there is at least some truth to his statements I am questionably attributing the story art for “The Lady of Linden Lane” to Gil Kane. The one problem with this attribution is that there is only one Newsboy Legion story that fits this description while Kane statement suggests he did multiple works in this fashion.

Star Spangled #31
Star Spangled #31 (April 1944) “Questions, Please” page 6, art by unidentified artist

The next issue of Star Spangled Comics had a very different Newsboy Legion story. No clear sign of Simon and Kirby here, neither in the splash or the story art. Nor is this the same artist that produced the story art from “The Lady of Linden Lane” I must admit that I have slighted this artist in the past. His more “cartoony” approach gives the impression that he could be considered an “anti-Simon & Kirby”. But it would be a mistake to dismiss this artist. Put aside any comparisons to Joe and Jack and I am sure the reader will see this is a rather interesting and talented artist. Sure his faces and figures are exaggerated but they are full of life. He makes good use of varying the point of view. He seems to purposely distort background scenery giving it an almost cubist look. This artist may be rather bizarre but he is definitely not boring. I will cover this artist in more detail in the next chapter of this serial post.

But who is this artist? In the past I, and at least some others, have thought this was Gil Kane. Now I attributing “The Lady of Linden Lane” to Gil Kane but is there any other reason to reject Kane as the replacement artist for “Questions, Please” and other Newsboy Legion stories? Actually there is. Gil Kane went into the army shortly after his 18th birthday and he spent 19 months in service. Since he was born on April 6, 1926 that would mean he was in the army sometime about April or May 1944. However, as we will see in the next chapter, this replacement artist would provide work up to Star Spangled #49 (October 1945). This is well into the time that Kane was doing military service. Unlike Simon and Kirby, I doubt that DC would consider the replacement artist important enough to provide an inventory of works to use while he was gone. So it can be said with good confidence that Gil Kane was not the primary Simon and Kirby replacement artist.

But what about Joe Simon’s suggestion of the Cazeneuve brothers? I prefer to put off trying to answer that question until the next chapter where I will review more of the primary replacement artist’s Newsboy Legion work.

Joe Simon and the Newsboy Legion Archives

The Newsboy Legion, volume 1

During a recent visit to Joe Simon I picked up a copy of DC’s “The Newsboy Legion by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby” volume 1. This post will not be an unbiased review as I was one of the contributors having provided all the covers. I have been extremely busy with restorations for “Simon and Kirby Superheroes” but I had previously scanned and cleaned up these Star Spangled covers so providing them to DC did impact my commitment with Titan. The covers are generally not what I would call full restorations but I think they came out rather well. The restoration of the stories was done by others (Rick Keene and Mike Montagna) and is even better than the work done for “Simon and Kirby’s Sandman”. I know there are some who are critical of DC’s approach but I am not one of them. I am pleased to see that only Marvel continues to follow the outdated technique of art “reconstruction” (a code word for recreation).

This first volume covers the work that appeared in Star Spangled issues #7 to #32 (April 1942 to May 1944). Joe and Jack provided DC with a handsome inventory before they went into military service. Because of that inventory this volume is almost exclusively work by Simon and Kirby with only three stories and a single cover drawn by other artists.

There are some aspects about this archive that I am less satisfied with. Mainly the smaller dimensions of the book requires that the art must be slightly reduced in size with narrow the gutters and margins. This was true for the Sandman archive as well. But I suspect this was all done to keep the cost of the book low. The dust jacket shows re-colored Simon and Kirby art. I am not a fan of the use of modern coloring on gold and silver age comic art. The line art was made for the type coloring and printing that it originally received. I have not seen any examples of the successful use of modern coloring applied to older art. But hey it is just the dust jacket and it is the contents of the book that really count.

A particular appeal feature of this reprint is the introduction written by Joe Simon. It seems so obvious a choice that I do not know why Joe is not asked to do more of these. Joe is a great writer and this is another of his fascinating essays. I will not discuss the contents at this time so the reader will just have to buy the book. But it does cover a wide range of the history that lies behind the Newsboy Legion.

Simon and Kirby’s Captain America was so innovative that it changed the comic book industry. However it was at DC that the Simon and Kirby collaboration really jelled. Which is why I am so pleased that DC will be reprinting so much of this important material. There should be a volume two for the Newsboy Legion and DC has announced the first Boy Command volume as coming out in November. Simon and Kirby fans live in exciting times.

My Two Cents: Vince Colletta Apologists

Young Romance #91
Young Romance #91(December 1957) “That Certain Something”, art by Vince Colletta

I do not understand apologists for Vince Colletta. This is not a rant against Colletta and his inking. I recently reread Kirby’s Fourth World series and I actually liked Colletta’a inking on those comics. There Vince showed a mastery of the use of a brush that was very admirable; not overly tight but still controlled. But the facts remain that Colletta did erase some of the pencils by Kirby and other artists. It should not be at all surprising that many fans of those artists object to Vince’s deletions.

The recent issue of the Jack Kirby Collector (#54) has an article by Colletta apologist Bruce Hannum (“Vince Colletta Not Always the Culprit”. It is an interesting article that shows the original version of two covers drawn by Kirby and the changes directed by Stan Lee for the published comics. For one cover this amounted to the removal of a minor item while the other cover was altered significantly by the elimination of a lot of back ground features. The topic of the changes made to an artist’s creation in preparation for publication is a fascinating one and the article would have been very pleasing had it been left at that. However Hannum proceeded to try to attempt to associate the Lee directed changes to Kirby’s art with the erasures by Colletta, even suggesting that Colletta was taking Lee’s actions as a guide to his inking of Kirby. In short Hannum is trying to justify Colletta’s use of an erasure by Lee’s editorial changes.

I have two big problems with the Colletta to Lee comparison. The first is the motivation. There is little doubt as to Lee’s motivation; he felt it the alterations would help with sales. You do not have to agree with Lee’s decisions to recognize that was why he made them. Frankly I often wished Stan would leave Kirby’s art alone (Genesis of a Cover, Captain America #105). But I am a fan with an interest in the art while Lee was an editor interested in sales. Joe Simon made similarly motivated decisions about Jack’s covers although he usually redid rather than reworked the cover (Alternate Versions of the Alarming Tales #3 Cover). And while the two examples in this article show the elimination of art not all of Lee’s directed modifications of Kirby covers were just elimination. One thing that Stan’s actions certainly were not and that was they were not attempts to save time.

However Colletta’s erasures do look like a time saving measure. None of the examples I have see look remotely like aesthetical decisions. Since the erasures were in unobtrusive parts of the story art they were not likely to affect sales either. Further unlike Stan, I have seen nothing to indicate Vince ever significantly added to or altered Kirby art. No, the Colletta apologists have made an unconvincing case that Colletta was trying to improve Kirby’s art.

But for argument’s sake let us accept the proposition that Colletta’s goal was improved art. This brings me to the second big problem with the Colletta to Lee comparison; they don’t compare. Simply put, Stan Lee was the editor. His responsibility went beyond just assigning work to artists; it went to the entire finished comic. If a comic was a disaster, in eyes of Goodman (his boss) it would be Stan’s fault not the artists. Kirby and the other comic book artists might not agree with Lee’s decisions but I doubt any questioned that those decisions were Stan’s to make. But the same would not be true for Colletta as an inker. It is only from Colletta apologists that I have heard the suggestion that the final art was the more responsibility of the inker than the artist who drew it. I suspect that most pencilers and their fans would not agree.

But why is such effort expended in defending Colletta? Do the apologists really feel that inkers are more important than pencilers? Or do they actually believe that Colletta is a better artist than Kirby? And if they do think Colletta is such a great artist what is that opinion based on? I have heard that Colletta drew really nice romance comic art. However none of the Colletta apologists seem that interested in romance comics and romance fans seem to prefer other artists over Colletta. And can the apologists really feel Kirby was wrong to stop using Colletta’s inking services? After all Jack was the editor for his Fourth World comics, why shouldn’t that have been his prerogative?

Like I said, I just do not understand Vince Colletta’s apologists.

Happy Fourth Anniversary!

Who cares about Simon and Kirby? Well judging by the first two years of this blog’s existence only a small number of fans. But it was not just the low number of visits to my blog that suggested that Simon and Kirby were pretty much forgotten by the larger public. 2006 and 2007 also did not really have much in the way of books with significant Simon and Kirby content on the market. But all that has changed. In the last two years the number of visits to the Simon and Kirby Blog has increased by a factor of ten and it keeps on rising. The last year saw the publication of Titan’s “Best of Simon and Kirby” and DC’s “Simon and Kirby Sandman”. This year should see DC release books on the Newsboy Legion and the Boy Commandos. Even more important Titan will be publishing the “Simon and Kirby Superheroes” (okay I’m biased). I still believe what I wrote in my last anniversary post, that the key event to this change in interest was due to the publication of Mark Evanier’s “Kirby: King of Comics”.

I did not envision any of this when I wrote my first post on March 17, 2006. I just wanted to spend some time writing about my favorite comic book collaborators and the artists who worked for them. I had been studying Simon and Kirby for quite some time before starting this blog but something changed once I did. I found that writing helped clarified my thoughts. That and the studies that accompanied my posts greatly increased my knowledge. I have learned much more about Simon and Kirby in the last four years then I have all the time before that.

I admit that keeping the blog going during the last year has been quite difficult. My restoration work for “Simon and Kirby Superheroes” has taken up much of my time (I will be posting about that in the not too distant future). But I love writing this blog and do not want to give it up even for a short while. And there is so much more to write about. My serial post Art of Romance has gone 28 chapters so far but is only up to the end of 1954 while I intend to take it up to 1960. Another serial post, Little Shop of Horrors, has gone 9 chapters but alas will end with the next one. And yes I know there are other serial posts that have long been idle (It’s a Crime and Wide Angle Scream) however I fully intend to write more on them at some point. In the past I posted about two titles (Foxhole and In Love) from Simon and Kirby’s short attempt at being publishers but I have yet to give Bullseye and Police Trap a similar treatment. DC is reprinting their Simon and Kirby material and that provides an added incentive to writing about Sandman, the Newsboy Legion and the Boy Commandos. With so much to discuss about Simon and Kirby I am sure this blog will have many more anniversaries to come!

Joe Simon, Some Comics from the Coast Guard

Simon and Kirby was a brand name that helped sell comics. So it comes to no surprise that although the Boys Commandos story (“Brooklyn Botches the Bakas”) from World’s Finest Comics #20 (Winter 1945) was signed Simon and Kirby they had nothing to do with it. All inventory that Joe and Jack provided DC before entering military service had since been used up. But that did not stop DC; they just added Simon and Kirby’s names to stories actually drawn by other artists. Like I said, Simon and Kirby’s names sold comics.

World's Finest #20
World’s Finest #20 (Winter 1945) “Foxhole Soldier”, art by Joe Simon

While neither creator contributed to the Boy Commandos story, the next story in World’s Finest #20 was penciled, and probably inked, by Joe Simon. There is no question that this piece was by Joe. It is in his distinctive style with no attempt at mimicking another artist (Joe’s imitations of Jack Kirby and Lou Fine have fooled experts). And if that were not enough it is even signed by Joe. Such a solo signature is unique during the period of the Simon and Kirby collaboration. Even the cover and short story that Joe did for Boy Commandos #12 (Fall 1945) were signed Simon and Kirby despite the fact that Jack was still in the army and certainly had nothing to do with them (Art by Joe Simon, Chapter 8, Off to War). For “Foxhole Soldier” I would guess that only used his signature to please his superiors since Simon was still in the Coast Guard when this story was created. Both the BC #12 and WF #20 pieces were clearly done as Coast Guard promotion.

The next issue of World’s Finest (#21, March 1946) featured a Boy Commandos story (“Brooklyn and Columbus Discover America”) actually drawn by the recently returned Jack Kirby. What a difference that made. However Joe was still in the Coast Guards and was not there to help. Very unfortunate because the inking to the Boy Commandos feature was atrocious.

World's Finest #21
World’s Finest #21 (March 1946) “Post War Casualty”, art by Joe Simon

While Joe was not on hand to help Jack with the Boy Commandos story, World’s Finest #21 had another story (“Post War Casualty”) penciled and inked by Simon. This story is unsigned but Joe’s style is easily detected. The job seems a little more rushed then “Foxhole Soldier”. The elderly lady shown in the first two story panels bears a remarkable resemblance to Apple Annie from the Duke of Broadway feature that Joe drew latter a couple months later (The Wide Angle Scream, American Royalty).

I had earlier reported about another short piece drawn by Simon, “Combat Photographer” from Real Fact #2, May 1946 (More Obscure Simon and Kirby). In that case there was no Coast Guard connection and the piece was published the same time Simon and Kirby’s Stuntman and Boy Explorers Comics. “Combat Photographer” indicates that Joe did some work for DC after returning from his stint in the Coast Guard.

I was unaware of Joe Simon’s two World’s Finest features until I recently saw them in a post on the Marvel Masterworks forum. In it Steven Utley remarked that Simon and Kirby’s Manhunter stories would make a rather thin archive volume if DC decided to publish them. Steven suggested that it thickened up a little bit more by including other assorted Simon and Kirby pieces. It could be fleshed out even a little bit more if DC were to include some pieces by Kirby alone, in particular his retro Manhunter from the 70’s. The complete list for such a volume would be:

Manhunter, Adventure Comics #s 73-80, 76 pages
“Coast Guard Reconnaissance,” Boy Commandos # 12, 3 pages
“Foxhole Sailor,” World’s Finest Comics #s 20, 3 pages
“Post War Casualty,” World’s Finest Comics # 21, 3 pages
“Pirate or Patriot,” Real Fact Comics # 1, 4 pages
Just Imagine, “The Rocket Lanes of Tomorrow,” Real Fact Comics # 1, 2 pages
Just Imagine, “A World of Thinking Machines,” Real Fact Comics # 2, 2 pages
Just Imagine, “Combat Photographer,” Real Fact Comics # 2, 4 pages
“Backseat Driver,” Real Fact Comics # 9, 4 pages
“Space Ships of the Past”, Showcase #15, 2 pages
Manhunter, First Issue Special #5, 19 pages

For a total of 122 pages. I think it is a great idea since some of these pieces would probably not otherwise be reprinted.

Marvel Masterwork’s Daring Mystery Volume 2

Some time ago I posted about the practice of reconstructing art that Marvel was using in their Masterworks reprint volumes (Recreation Vs. Restoration, How Should Reprints Be Done?). I was, and still am, rather critical of that approach. My criticism is not just theoretical, some of the reconstructions made in the past have been very poor indeed (The Human Torch #2). I concluded my Recreation Vs. Restoration post with the observation that the use of reconstructed art makes Marvel reprints of little use for me and that I would no longer be buying them. But of course, one should never say never.

I have long been on the look-out for a copy of Daring Mystery #5 (June 1940). Some have claimed that the Trojak story contained in the issue was drawn by Joe Simon. This was altogether possible because I believe Joe did do the Trojak in Daring Mystery #4 (May 1940) and he certainly drew the Fiery Mask story in Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940). Even if Simon had not drawn Trojak story in DM #5 I still thought it would be nice to see the story of this Simon created character. However Daring Mystery comics are rare in any shape and I have searched for many years in vain for an affordable copy of issue #5. So when I saw the recently released Marvel Masterwork’s Daring Mystery Volume 2 I decided that even reconstructed art was good enough for my purposes and bought a copy.

Although I had not bought a Masterwork volume for some time I did have an occasion to see the quality of the reconstruction was done in a Marvel Mystery Comics reprint volume. When the Best of Simon and Kirby book came out I received some criticism on the Marvel Masterwork forum for the restoration that I did on the volume. At one point someone posted a scan of the splash page of the Vision story from a Masterwork book. A comparison of the scan with one from the same splash from BoSK showed some rather poor reconstruction in certain areas in the Masterwork version.

Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “The Fiery Mask” page 4, pencils by Joe Simon

Now that I had the Daring Mystery volume I was curious on how well the reconstruction was done. Of course I did not have a copy of DM #5 but I did have copies of the other issues. At a glance the reconstruction of the story art (by Pacific Rim Graphics) looked pretty good. But I decided to take one example (the demon figure from the Fiery Mask page shown above) and overlay scans from the original comic and the reprint.

I digitally bleached both scans so that for the most part only the line art remained. I changed the line art of the original comic to red and that from the Masterwork to cyan (blue). If both were identical the resulting lines would look black but deviations would show up in one of the two colors. Experience has shown that you never get perfect overlays. Even scans from the same comic will vary from day to day. Paper “breaths”, it expands or contracts with humidity changes.

Daring Mystery comparison
Original: red line art
Masterwork: blue line art

To illustrate what I found I have shown a close-up of the Demon’s foot. I have marked the most glaring difference as item 1. However the error in this case is due to the digital bleaching I did. The robe was red while the background was green. The registration was not perfect and the cyan (blue) of the background printed over a portion of red. The red (magenta and yellow) and cyan inks combined to form black. Chemical bleaching would have removed the erroneous black but digital bleaching does not. But the black due to the registration error and the black ink of the line art are not identical. If I were doing the restoration I would edit the result based on that difference and as far as I can tell the Masterwork’s reconstruction is accurate.

My registration is not perfect and as I described above variations due to paper expansion or contraction are also expected. Therefore I would not judge most of the failures to overlay correctly to be of any significance. The one I marked as 5 shows that the original comic was slightly to our right. However the line on the opposite side of the foot is also slightly to the right. I expect both “errors” are due to the problems I described above and are not reconstruction errors. There are also other variations in line width that could be explained by variations in the printing. However it is also possible that they are reconstruction errors but I cannot tell without seeing the actual comic used in the Masterwork reconstruction.

Now look closely at the heel (marked as 2). The bottom of the heel in the original comic was not smooth but deviated slightly near the end. This cannot be explained by the factors discussed above and is I believe an error in the reconstruction. On the opposite side of the foot (marked 3) is a case were the reconstruction has added an angle that was not present in the original. The fold spotting pointed to by item 4 also deviates in ways that seem to reconstruction errors.

One might think that I am criticizing Pacific Rim Graphics for the reconstruction job they did. Actually far from it, I believe they did an excellent job. These are really small errors that can only be seen when magnified and would be difficult to spot with the naked eye.

The covers were reconstructed by another (Michael Kelleher). This is same reconstructor that I mentioned in my earlier post who admitted to using a primitive reconstruction method (inking on tracing paper) and was completely clueless why some would find this objectionable. I did not do an overlay of his work but careful examination suggests it was accurate. The only thing I noticed was that his lines were consistently narrower than those from the original comics. Perhaps the original comics he used had been better printed or perhaps this was done on purpose.

I did not have time to make detailed comparisons of all the work from Daring Mystery issues 6 to 8 with the Masterwork volume but overall they looked good. I feel this volume does justice to the original artists. Does that mean I approve of the use of reconstructed art? Not at all, I still prefer scans. No matter how well done, a reconstruction is still one artist’s interpretation of another artist’s work. But let us be frank, the reader will unlikely to find a single coverless issue of Daring Mystery for the price of the Masterwork volume.

One little warning about the Masterwork book, the cover for Daring Mystery #7 was not drawn by Joe Simon. I have no idea how such an obvious mistake was made.

Vagabond Prince, “Death-Trap De Luxe”

Black Cat #7
Black Cat #7 (September 1947) “Death-Trap De Luxe” page 2, art by Joe Simon

The last created Vagabond Prince story, “Death-Trap De Luxe”, ended up being the first one published. Thus readers would have had no idea what brought the Vagabond Prince and his two companions together to fight crime. Actually even if the reader had been familiar with the other two stories he still would have no idea where the Jester came from. This is the only appearance of this character but the story treats him as if there was nothing particularly unusual about his presence.

Neither the story nor the art is quite as good in “Death-Trap De Luxe” compared to the other two Vagabond Prince stories, but it still is well worth reading. In this case Vagabond Prince’s adversary is an unscrupulous capitalist car maker. Of course the plot is completely exaggerated for use in a comic book. After all no car manufacturer in those days, or today, would ever put profit above public safety. You can tell the car make in this story is especially evil, he provides his cat with live birds!

The Vagabond Prince stories suffer from some of the defects of golden age comics, or for that matter the superhero genre from any period. The concept that a hero can routinely come across crime is a bit of a stretch. Nor is it easy to accept that clues can be so conveniently found and would so easily be used to track down the criminals. However these improbable plot devices must be accepted by the reader of superhero comics or the stories would never proceed at a fast enough pace. And Joe’s Vagabond Prince stories, like all Simon and Kirby productions, do move at an enjoyable pace. What makes Vagabond Prince stories special for me is how the hero comes from the poor to defend them against the financial and cultural elite. Sure the stories are a bit over the top, but that is not only an acceptable characteristics for comics it is actually desirable.

Besides the Vagabond Prince, Joe Simon also created and drew five Duke of Broadway and three Kid Adonis stories (one of which has never been printed). Therefore this relatively brief period was Joe’s most productive as a comic book penciler. One wonders how comic book history would have played out if the Stuntman and Boy Explorers Comics had somehow made it into more newspaper stands racks. Would Simon have continued penciling more stories? Would there have been romance comics?